Dolemite Is My Name ★★★★

"I was just thinkin', man: this movie is playin' across the whole country. It ain't got no titties, no funny, and no kung-fu."

Other than films that are not playing in a theatre within 200 miles of me -- 1917 -- or looked bad so I didn't see them at the movies and aren't on-demand yet -- Motherless Brooklyn -- after this viewing of Dolemite is My Name I will have seen every Golden Globe nominee in the film categories. Not bad!

Immediately prior to streaming this, I watched for the first time the original Dolemite starring the incomparable Rudy Ray Moore in his iconic eponymous role. Now Murphy stars as Moore in a comedy biopic about the actor and the character which would save his career and redefine his life.

Moore (Murphy) is struggling as an artist in early 1970s LA, hoping for his original songs to break through on local radio or his stage presence as occasional MC to get known. Alas, band leader Ben Taylor (Craig Robinson) and crew don't see it happening. On a whim Rudy gets inspiration from a few homeless men who get by telling stories and wild raunchy jokes, including one with an invented character named "Dolemite." Roy co-opts him one night and kills it on stage with his new swaggy persona, pimped out and X-rated, leading to a recording of a comedy album by friend Jimmy Lynch (Mike Epps) called Eat Out More Often; so filthy the record is, they have no choice but to produce and release it themselves. A hit with black audiences, Rudy begins to tour his act down South and eventually feels like he's big enough to star in his own film. With the help of playwright Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key) and actor/director D'Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes), Dolemite is on his way to the big screen.

I trust a director like Craig Brewer to make this story come alive. Known for the provocative Black Snake Moan and the excellent indie drama Hustle & Flow, here he works with a script by the screenwriting team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. Nearly 15 years of production, including talking with the real Rudy Ray Moore before his death in 2008, Murphy has wanted this film for a long time.

"I want the world to know I exist," Rudy tells us in Dolemite is My Name, and we sure do thanks to Murphy's starring Golden Globe-nominated role. "Every city has got those same five blocks," he says of that passionate fanbase he knows will turn out. "And they gon' love it." He shines in what feels like about his third career comeback (I guess we do this every 10 or 15 years?) and his best role in years. Don't sleep on a brilliant supporting role from Wesley Snipes either, who proves his acting chops haven't faded a bit in his 35-year career, playing the eccentric auteur D'Urville Martin perfectly. Snipes is so goddamn good, he almost upstages Murphy. But Eddie Murphy is just tremendous, As John Podhoretz wrote,

Murphy is just glorious here, deserving of an Oscar he almost surely will not get. This is a beautifully and carefully crafted performance in which the greatest comic talent of his generation succeeds in dimming some of his own extraordinary luster to capture Moore's knowing but essential mediocrity.

The film, by its long second act and main section of the creation of the namesake motion picture, turns to something of the blaxploitation version of The Disaster Artist. Brewer re-creates scenes -- and the making-of scenes -- with goofy precision and loving dedication, without losing focus of the shoestring budget and Moore's struggles to keep his confidence. There's a real warmth to this story, and though it leans real hard into feel-good crowd-pleasing fare, I was endlessly entertained and smiling all the way.

Added to The Best Narrative Films of 2019.
Added to Craig Brewer ranked.

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